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ICONIC – A BRIEF HISTORY OF DRAG Icons and origins

West End drag darling Velma Celli arrives at FRINGE WORLD all the way from London, where she’s been busy belting bangers at her sold out UK tour ICONIC – A Brief History of Drag. Her heart-wrenching performance leads audiences on a journey from the early days of drag through to the big moments in performance, theatre and film, singing all the powerful and poignant tunes drag fans will know and love. JESS COCKERILL caught up with Ian Stroughair – the man behind Velma Celli – to find out how Velma came into being and how on earth he will decide what to pack as he heads down under. ICONIC runs from February 16 – 25 at De Parel Spiegeltent in the Pleasure Garden as part of FRINGE WORLD. For tickets and more information, visit the event page here.

Your show looks back at drag’s iconic performers and the moments that brought them into the limelight. What, to you, have been the most important moments in drag history?

Fabulous question and very difficult to answer. There isn’t just one queen: the work of ALL queens collectively inspires me, because each queen brings a different idea and perspective on things. Their shared experiences and stories of struggle and acceptance are what inspires the birth of other queens and this is really what ICONIC celebrates. Using all the different colours in the crayon box, as Mama RuPaul says!

Who are your own drag ‘icons’, personally?

ME, myself and I. No, I would most likely say RuPaul & Dame Edna. Ru for his incredible ability to rebirth and change and Edna because she is comedy gold.

What makes your performance different from other queens?

I guess the main difference is that I sing live. Traditionally, drag queens lip-sync to the diva’s hits (which is super fun) but with Velma you get a real West End musical theatre experience which I hope you will enjoy.

Were you a singer or a queen first?

Ahhhh the chicken or the egg. I would say singer from a very early age. Perhaps I had the sass of a queen but didn’t know it, except when wearing mum’s silk night dress. Shhhhhhh!

What’s the story behind your drag name?

I was in the company of Chicago the Musical in the West End, and for a laugh the ensemble “boys” decided to go out in drag to Madame JoJo’s in London. The casts of Priscilla and La Cage looked (of course) incredible. I looked like a dog’s dinner. We had great fun and a LOT of drinks and at some stage of the evening I was given a microphone and asked to sing. Apparently this went down rather well because I was invited back to perform at the venue with my own show. I had to pick a name and fast. So after leaving Jojo’s drunk and eating vermicelli noodles in Chinatown dressed as Velma Kelly, it seemed there was only one option.

What is the difference between Velma and Ian?

Velma is more confident. Performing behind the mask of Velma makes me completely fearless and it is a very exciting place to be. It is a very empowering experience.

I bet as a drag queen you’d have a lot of luggage, how will you decide what to bring to Perth?

DON’T – it’s really rather stressful. I am just going to have to economise and bring just a few special pieces! So, like, 100 outfits.  

Perth is a long way from London! What are you looking forward to seeing in Australia?

It most certainly is. I have never been to Australia so I am beyond excited to get down under. It’s freezing here in London right now so BRING ON THE BEACH! I am most looking forward to the quokkas! CUTE!

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